The Great Depression of the 1930s, and its accompanying wave of unemployment, drove many workers away from the towns and cities in search of a subsistence livelihood in the country. George Davies, along with his mates Curly and Big Mac, travelled to the Howard goldfield in the Upper Buller, in part attracted by the government’s gold subsidy scheme. The Gold Subsidy Scheme paid married men 30 shillings a week and single men 15 shillings to search for gold.
The romantic image of the prospector swirling his pan in a creek and discovering a fortune had no reality on the Howard. It was, instead, heavy labour which involved clearing timber and large boulders from the claim, constructing head and tail races to bring water to sluice the faces – only then could gold recovery begin – if, indeed, gold were present.
George Davies’ personal account of life on the Howard goldfields is both humorous and moving. He and his mates served a hard apprenticeship. They never made a fortune but found physical and mental skills previously unknown to them and became proud practitioners of a craft.
(Produced by Laurie Swindell and first broadcast in May 1972)
I thought this was a rare insight into the life and lifestyles of the old time miners, many of us have walked amongst there workings but I for one feel a disconnect from the way they worked and the way things are today, did they really move those all of those rocks by hand? you betcha. By the 1930’s the nation was reasonably well developed and life as a gold digger would have been many times easier still then those who took to washing dirt back in the 1860’s.
An FYI a lot of the depression era guys worked on the Maud and Maggie creeks of the Howard goldfield, It’s not easy to tell where this old timer was infact working and his story raises a few more questions in that respect then it answers, however even back then when the creek filled with virgin ground nobody was made wealthy by it, although there is gold to be found in just about all creeks in the area, the public areas made available to us to fossick in are uundoubtedly the richest pickings.